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Australia Thousands of homes sit vacant in WA shires amid worsening regional housing crisis, Census data reveals

04:02  21 july  2022
04:02  21 july  2022 Source:   abc.net.au

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Two shires in Western Australia have some of the highest rates of unoccupied housing in the country — but for two very different reasons.

While the Shire of Gingin is home to the thriving holiday towns of Lancelin and Ledge Point, Trayning is a farming town with a falling population.

According to Census data, one million houses across Australia are unoccupied at the same time as the country tackles an acute homelessness crisis.

The beachside towns of Lancelin and Ledge Point are a favourite among West Australian families searching for a quick weekend getaway.

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But when these travellers return to their daily lives, the holiday homes they stay in are often left deserted.

Gingin shire stretches along the WA coastline from Guilderton to Nilgen, and recent analysis found 47 per cent of its homes were vacant.

Gingin Shire President Wayne Fewster said the population in his district could change by as much as 300 per cent depending on the season.

"Our busiest period is during the holidays and around the first of January … our population is around 5,500 and we estimate it goes to 10,000-15,000 in those busy periods," he said.

"If you took the Census in January, you'd find it would be a totally different number."

The Shire of Dandaragan, just north of Gingin and encompassing the coastal town of Jurien Bay, saw similar vacancy rates.

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Data collected in the Census underpins billions of dollars in federal funding, including for education, healthcare, and critical infrastructure like road upgrades.

Mr Fewster said his region was deprived of government support due to its status as a tourist destination.

"We're certainly disadvantaged, you couldn't argue against that," he said.

"Without that density and that population, it's very hard to get those services and have them there for the full year because there are periods where they're not going to be viable and other periods where they're stretched to the limit."

From tourist town to 'ghost town'

About 300km inland from Lancelin, the Wheatbelt's Shire of Trayning is home to around 300 people — many of whom farm grain crops.

The Census revealed 43 per cent of its homes were vacant but for a very different reason to its coastal neighbours.

Trayning Shire CEO Leanne Parola said a decreasing population and low land values resulted in homes being abandoned.

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"A lot of those houses aren't liveable," she said.

"They're on farms or they've been let go or there are houses in towns you couldn't rent out to anybody.

"The fact is there aren't any houses here available for rent privately."

The population of Trayning has dropped 13 per cent over the past decade, and Ms Parola said there was little incentive for home owners to rent out vacant properties.

"When you're looking at an average rent of $120 a week, you'd quite often be losing money if you have to replace a hot water system or do some plumbing or something like that," she said.

"It's not commercially viable in those small areas."

The local general store is in Yelbeni, 14km east of the Trayning town site.

The original shop burnt down in 2007, and it now operates out of the old town hall.

Owner Phil Hutchison said it was sad to see the population decline in small Wheatbelt towns.

"Forty years ago, when I was a local footballer, the bowling club in Wyalkatchem and the hotel were both full on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday," he said.

"It would have been the same for Trayning.

"You can't go to the local hotel for lunch because they can't service that, there mightn't be anyone coming in for two days.

"Dinner's usually always on, but it would be very hard for all the businesses in the country with these smaller towns."


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